Bacteriophage eavesdrops on pathogenic bacteria

February 12, 2019. Scientists have discovered that the bacteriophage VP882 has the ability to eavesdrop on bacteria by tuning into their signaling molecules. Their finding throws new light on how these tiny viruses are able to attack and kill far bigger bacteria.

Signaling molecules

Bacteria such as Escherichia coli communicate with each other by releasing what are known as signaling molecules. They also do this whenever they sense other bacteria nearby. VP882 keeps a proverbial eye on the numbers of such molecules being released. If hosts are few and far between, the bacterophage patiently bides its time, but as soon as it detects enough bacteria in the vicinity, it attacks and injects its genetic material into a bacterium. 

This causes the host to produce so many new VP882 phages that it eventually ruptures and dies. Once released, these phages can mount the next wave of attacks on nearby bacteria, continuing until there are none left. 

Fighting infections

Whereas most phages target just one specific kind of bacterium, VP882 is the exception that proves the rule. VP882 has been shown capable of fighting an array of pathogens, including E. coli, Vibrio cholerae and the bacterium that causes salmonella. Potentially, therefore, VP882 could in future be used to fight a host of bacterial infections. With bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, the search is on for alternative therapies like this.